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EU body warns on pandemic human rights infringements
Pic: Shutterstock

29 May 2020 / covid-19 Print

EU body warns on pandemic human rights infringements

An EU agency led by Irish solicitor Michael O’Flaherty has warned that governments using technology to monitor and track COVID-19 need to respect people’s fundamental rights.

The Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) call came as it published a second report into the implications of the pandemic for people’s fundamental rights.

Safeguards

“Technology can guide governments in navigating their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says FRA director Michael O’Flaherty

“However, like all solutions, governments need to take care that respect for fundamental rights forms part of our public health strategies.

“This includes maintaining privacy and data protection legal safeguards.”

Data

The FRA says many countries are allowing health and police authorities to access traffic and location data from telecommunication providers to track individuals, such as those under quarantine.

They are also working on contact-tracing apps.

While it acknowledges that many countries consulted data protection authorities or experts to ensure compliance with EU rules, it says they should ensure all legal safeguards – including free and informed consent, and not extending the use of the personal data collected – are implemented.

Code

The FRA says efforts to make public the source code of contact-tracing apps are imperative, in order to boost transparency and public confidence.

Its report includes a section reviewing the measures introduced in Ireland, carried out by the Irish Centre of Human Rights at NUI Galway.

The report refers to concerns expressed by some groups over the HSE’s plans for a contact-tracing app.

The report says plans to use a decentralised system – where data-matching will take place on a person’s phone, rather than a centralised server system – will allay one of the main concerns.

However, similar technology in Singapore has had a low take-up – 20% – despite high levels of trust in public authorities, according to tech lawyer John McGee of DLA Piper.

'Mission creep'

The FRA adds, however, that a group of signatories led by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Digital Rights Ireland have also called on the HSE to publish draft specifications, source code and a data protection impact assessment for the app.

They have also expressed concerns about ‘mission creep’ and mandatory uptake, or discrimination against those who have not installed the app.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland